garbonza

Archive for March, 2014|Monthly archive page

Once a Feminist…

In ideology, morality, politics on March 20, 2014 at 10:13 pm

When young and even middle-aged women today pick me up on major gaffes, examples of hopeless social ineptitude like calling a woman a girl, or holding a door open for one — that define me as a first class male chauvinist pig in the time-honored nomenclature — I just think to myself “Where were you in 1971, bitch?” — the form it often comes out as afterwards, verbalising it under my breath, as I relive the moment. (Don’t bother saying it — I’ve already taken an anger management course for it and I’m a lot better than I was. Thanks for askin’.) That year, at 15, was when I first got seriously curious about what made women tick. Of course, growing up in a household headed by a solo mother and two older sisters, I had only become used to the “Go to your room, now!” or “Stop it or I’ll break your face!” style of feminism whenever I was deemed to have stepped out of line (and no court of appeal to discuss facts) rather than the plaintive “We just want equality/okay, more than equality” approach as women present themselves today, ladylike, in public; but this calm, assertive approach is as ruthless as ever, and can seem so rational.

Of course, only women then wrote serious polemics about what has become the abiding cross-gender study of “women’s issues” — and solely from their point of view because not only was there very little research about men to draw on but very little curiosity from women about what makes men tick. (I’m still waiting for this small level of official interest in terms of men getting seriously involved in themselves. But since it hasn’t happened by now I can only assume the strong cultural imperative from both genders that men not “wimp out” or object to their lives in any way prohibits this from ever happening: a thinly disguised version of the white feather of yesteryear sent to “cowards” who refused to sacrifice themselves or to kill on the altar of war.)

The three biggies in feminist literature were Frenchwoman Simone de Beauvoir, New York sophisticate Betty Friedan and mod icon Germaine Greer from next door in Australia. Suffice to say, they set me on the wrong track for many years on my expectations of women and forming relationships based on any kind of reality. These women authors were arguing from their own ideals as stridently independent women, maybe representing about three percent of women in those days, tops. None of the big three were in the least photogenic or appealing in a girly way. This would wait until Gloria Steinem started appearing on magazine covers as eye candy, later joined by girlish Naomi Klein and others in somewhat glammed-up attire and displaying other sexual cues — which of course defeated the purpose and the principle in a pretty big way but made the whole phenomenon of watered-down feminism more popular.

As a willing feminist at the time, I took their words as gospel and did not for one minute expect emancipated modern women to be: unalterably passive when it came to pursuing relationships with men (just flirting outrageously), to be silent or ambiguous when it came to any course of reciprocation, or actually claim changing their minds as a “woman’s perogative”. For many, many years I ignored the evidence of my own senses, thinking “Oh, she must be an exception.” My mother, seeing the trouble I was in, finally said, “I think you’re the kind of guy who will have good relationships [in later life].”

Brando and Vivien Leigh playing a butterfly broken on the wheel

Brando and Vivien Leigh imagery in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), representing female feminists’ heroic view of themselves: the butterfly oppressed by the beast

A few years later, in my twenties, I came across The Female Woman by Ariana Stassinopoulis (Huffington), who seemed to me to be letting quite a few cats out of the bag. The sisterhood — whose hold was weakening on me by this time — and who were tired of squabbling with each other about political priorities in the war against men’s privileges — was understandably concerned about this development. The original message was unalterably diverted through magazine editor Steinem and others in influential media positions compromising and playing on market forces. This trend has continued into “modern feminism” and women role models today who parade in 8-inch heels (rightly characterised as “Fuck me” shoes by Germaine Greer all those decades ago), have their faces and bodies rearranged to suit themselves (somehow said to be men’s fault) and twerk their asses off in public with strangers are said to be making important cultural statements on the importance and value of women’s free expression today.

Maybe they are.

anna_nicole_weight300 The modern echo of Marilyn Monroe, or a grotesque caricature symbolic of the times?[/caption]

Advertisements

1962: Sixties Music Thriving

In history, music on March 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm

The year 1962 was one of those “watershed” years, if that metaphor can somehow be applied to the popular music business. Five years before, at the height of the explosion of rock’n’roll, had seen posted the all-time record in vinyl disc sales. By 1959 the boom had dipped to a slump and recovery was slow. Now three years later came the long-awaited big comeback in singles and the first sizable advance in sales of albums since they’d been introduced a few years before. Popular music albums had been the poor relation of movie soundtracks, original stage cast productions and comedy albums, which quite regularly sold over a million even for comics now virtually forgotten: Allen Sherman, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman, Dick Gregory (a controversial black humorist), Rusty Warren (she was a woman)… In pop music there had been operatic movie star Mario Lanza appearing early in the Fifties but by their end only two black crooners of “Easy Listening” music, Harry Belafonte and Johnny Mathis, stood out as reliable sellers of albums in big numbers. Elvis Presley’s first million-selling album took two or three years to get there. And it would be 1963 before the first Sixties “rock” stars made it big in albums: Peter, Paul & Mary

From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

From right, the lovely Mary Travers, and the professorial Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey.

and the Beach Boys; and in Britain, the Beatles.

Two more black balladeers, Ray Charles and Nat King Cole, took to “country” music in ’62 though their bluesy/jazz voices could not be disguised, taking their biggest numbers I Can’t Stop Loving You and Ramblin’ Rose up to top the charts and go further to post the rare landmark of two million disc sales. The summer especially saw sales rocket, in many major cities some fifty percent or more over the previous year. For the first time, songs that barely made Billboard’s top 20 sold a million discs or close to it: Surfin’ Safari by the Beach Boys and Silver Threads and Golden Needles by the Springfields with lead singer Dusty. (Though in the face of this renewed rock impetus, “Easy Listening” for “adults” still ruled: Tony Bennett’s slow-selling I Left My Heart in San Francisco accumulating two million.) In autumn too came the biggest new white group of the rock era thus far, innovating in writing, arranging and producing their own recordings. The Four Seasons,

The Four Seasons in 1962, of 'Sherry', 'Big Girls Don't Cry' and 'Walk Like a Man' vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

The Four Seasons in 1962, of ‘Sherry’, ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’ and ‘Walk Like a Man’ vintage. From left: lead singer/falsetto Frankie Valli, Tommy De Vito (guitar), Bob Gaudio (songwriter/keyboards), Nick Massi (bass vocals, bass guitar)

Italian-Americans from New Jersey, scored with Sherry, moving 180,000 copies the day after being played on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and climbing to a double-million seller; then Big Girls Don’t Cry, almost as big.

In black music the balladeer group the Platters had dominated pop since 1955, recently overtaken by the Drifters in r&b/pop (Save the Last Dance for Me, Up On the Roof) and, more spectacularly, girl group the Shirelles whose standout 1962 entry was Baby It’s You, a revolution in sound and mood and dwarfing the quality of the remake the Beatles would fast turn out in tribute; accompanying it was their big number one for the year, Soldier Boy. Already, by fall, they were being eclipsed by Phil Spector group the Crystals (He’s a Rebel), to be top girl group until the arrival of Motown’s Martha (Reeves) & the Vandellas (Heat Wave) a year later, and Diana Ross & the Supremes yet a year further along.

Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

Martha Reeves heading the Vandellas: more talented than Diana Ross but not cozy with the boss.

However, the massive seismic impact that changed the music scene overnight in the New Year of ’62 was the second coming of The Twist, as a song, but primarily a dance that took the world by storm, for the first time getting middle-aged trendies like Jackie Kennedy, Marlene Dietrich and Zsa Zsa Gabor up on the teen dance floor. The singer — and gyrater — was moca-colored Chubby Checker, in the process of overtaking Elvis this year. Uniquely topping the charts twice in two years with a song that Billboard would name the biggest of the rock era. Ensuring a bridge from the Fifties’ seminal r&b of Hank Ballard,

Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

Hank Ballard: too black for a superstar in 1960

its raucous but precise execution blaring out of millions of pocket transistors worldwide emphatically confirmed that black rock music was the model from now on.

Elvis’s most convincing heir as white interpreter of black music was Dion (DiMucci), with more r&b feel than other Italian-American teen idols like Bobby Darin, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian Forte. He was hot with Runaround Sue, The Wanderer and Ruby Baby. The following year James Brown and 13-year-old “genius” Stevie Wonder would continue to hoist black rock on high with chart-topping albums. And Sam Cooke (Chain Gang, Bring It On Home to Me)

Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

Sam Cooke: smooth and soulful, with an incomparable voice that made you sit up and listen.

would stake his claim as the Prince of Soul, along with Jackie Wilson (Baby Work Out) — who with Brown would determine the most striking dance moves of Michael Jackson.

Judge Judy & Dr Phil: Egos that know no bounds backed by unbridled power

In ideology, morality, psychology/psychiatry, television on March 7, 2014 at 5:05 am

One of the few benefits of age is, having picked up in middle age the gist of a few patterns in the way life works, your ability at judging character and people’s motives grows more acute. This is never better illustrated than when watching celebrities — such as tv stars Judge Judy and Dr Phil. No matter how well groomed, titivated, glossed over, edited they are to appeal to the masses, the real essence sometimes shows through.

When Oprah Winfrey quit her daily talkshow about everyday people’s problems to concentrate on the world she knows and loves best — celebrities — she anointed “Doctor” — no, he’s only a psychologist — Phil McGraw as her heir apparent. It was the kind of done deal — he working for her tv empire — that told you what she was all about all along: wielding populist power from a position of pseudo-journalism coverage of trendy themes, handled almost solely from the woman’s point of view, and basic ignorance of many things. But he had the letters after his name so, being a simple Mississippi girl after all dependent on her “inner child” to do her thinking for her, she must have assumed he would go down as an expert with the daytime tv-watching public. And, as with all tv dynasties, relatives (Phil’s wife and at least one son) have been taken on board automatically without credentials as ready-made “experts” whether they have anything worthwhile to offer the audience or not.

drphilEven with all the spin, poor Phil often unintentionally shows the cards he was dealt. Some of his pet sayings like “I didn’t come in on a load of turnips” and “Is stupid written here?” (pointing to his forehead) speak vividly of a kid picked on by older siblings and remembering their taunts word for word. He’s begging to be called on them, and I wait for the day when someone with presence of mind who isn’t intimidated by Phil’s defensive bluster when he’s cornered retorts: “I didn’t know it was supposed to be” or “No. Someone must have rubbed it off.” I hesitate to suggest Phil’s vast expanse of forehead was the cruelest cut of all, but this is maybe his one point of modesty. In fact he mentions it so often — even to the point of rudely comparing guests’ with his own hairline — that I can’t help thinking he believes it’s his only imperfection, though a glaring one that’s all the more embarrassing to him: as self-absorbed as any other showbiz diva.

The result is he’s an overblown, self-aggrandising street fighter (or the Oklahoma equivalent) who somehow stumbled into academia to start what became a great “meat-hunters” career in a “carnivores’ world” as he likes to call it. He and his great buddy Donald Trump once got together on the Dr Phil show to carve up a former contestant, a young black woman who had displeased Trump by going public with her complaints against his show The Apprentice, taking slices off her turn and turn about, incessantly grilling her third degree style and talking over each other in their bloodlust to get at her. Funny that in this context one of his favorite aphorisms didn’t occur to him: “This situation needs a hero”, when he’ll invariably turn to the man in any dispute versus a woman and tell him to “Man up!” — a blatant call to chauvinism. But Phil and the Donald were disgustingly lacking in manliness that day. After many years of watching him in action, I can much more easily imagine him as organiser of local dogfights with the goal of shredding people more than he pretends to help them. Watching Dr Phil this very afternoon, he was faced by the nemesis he just cannot stand: an ultimately confident man who is also more intelligent than him (not an unusual circumstance on his show).

This was an elderly widower who had lost his wife in a car crash not his fault, and whose daughters had been on his neck ever since for marrying a younger woman who was getting a share of his resources. A guy who looked seventy should have sought out a woman the same or an older age? The man was dead meat toward the end of the session when McGraw insisted he must apologize to his daughters (whom even their mother hadn’t liked when she was alive) for making them feel sad, and making them angry enough evidently for one of them to threaten him with a hitman. He, in all conscience couldn’t see himself doing this and honestly declined to.

“You’re a right fighter…” came in Dr Phil with one of his favorite put-downs that would be a compliment to anyone with integrity. “You’re going to end up a lonely old man,” he added with relish, almost licking his lips in anticipation at the thought of fruition at the hopeful curse he’d just put on his ‘guest’. The man took it in equable spirit, agreeing it was a possibility. As the show ended good-ol’-boy Phil couldn’t resist one last sly dig as he leaned in and insincerely shook the man’s hand goodbye/good riddance: “You’re gonna feel like a real asshole when you get home and watch this.” Someone on Phil’s staff must be getting heartily sick of him because the epithet (though delivered off-mike) was audible and not blocked in post-production.

judgejudyJudge Judith Sheindlin is praised for her strength by her admirers and even her detractors grant her a certain repellent straightforwardness. But this is only part of the picture, and maybe a misleading one. In the many years I have watched the show off and on (mainly off over recent years) I have seen her grant any degree of deference to just two of her thousands of ‘guests’. One was, maybe surprisingly, Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols; the other, Beatrice Arthur, famous for playing essentially the same domineering character in television’s All in the Family, Maude and The Golden Girls. On both occasions, such was the contrast to Judge Sheindlin’s normal, outright disdain, she came across as fawning in her approach to them: maybe a little taken aback in the presence of people with at least a modicum of talent to show for their millions.

She claims to be “a truth machine”, the kind of line that might go down well with any tiny tots unlucky enough to end up surfing her channel. Insisting that she has infallible judgment in people’s veracity, for it to work properly they have to look her direct in the eye without flinching — an act of courage that shouldn’t be underestimated. If they hesitate with an answer, thinking, or look away for a moment, this is a dead giveaway of attempted deceit. She, like Phil, has outlandish overconfidence in her intelligence. When she’s challenged a simple “I’m smarter than you are on your smartest day!” is enough to leave all comers at a loss for words. At first you can’t help laughing out loud at this. But pretty soon you realise it isn’t just a courtroom tactic, and how really dangerous this is that she takes these comic lines so very seriously. It’s too much to hope for Albert Einstein to show up in the dock, but I can’t wait for Stephen Hawkings or Noam Chomsky to be placed in the stocks as her whipping boy and modestly announce who he is to the Grand Know-It-All. Maybe the best place for Judith Scheindlin is a walk-on in that Muppet sketch, the one where Kermit hails, “Call the Royal Smart Person!” Enter Judy, taking bows and totally straight-faced.

Delivering her usual shtick, one of her common refrains is to berate a solo mother or unemployed man on welfare for sponging on her tax dollars. This by itself is deeply pathological coming from a woman who works a total of 52 days a year and receives $47 million for it. Do the arithmetic, and think what unbounded chutzpah and self-love this must take, amounting to an unrecognized diagnosis.

To draw together my few observations, I can’t help but stick my neck out and suggest that both Phil and Judy (is it her Americans mean when they coin the word “Judyism”?) are self-revealing Republican supporters and strong proponents of the ongoing Trickle Down con job in international economics. It shows every time Phil, at the end of his diatribe, graciously offers a downtrodden guest, “I want you to have help — and I’m offering this treatment to you, from me, free of charge”, as if he’s giving it out of his own obscenely bloated paycheck. Both of these tv superstars — and many others — know very well that most of the human tragedies they see every day on their shows, year after year, wouldn’t even arise if the United States followed the United Nations human rights resolutions on health, poverty, employment and education as part of its stance on economic, cultural and social rights. Instead they make themselves feel good by trotting out piecemeal, one-at-a-time charity to people they treat as charity cases, who should be receiving these services as of right.

%d bloggers like this: